Mobile gaming parent guide

Learn more about the benefits of mobile games, how children are interacting with it and the potential issues to be aware of.

What is mobile gaming?

With over 2.8 billion active users of mobile games worldwide, it is one of the most accessible ways to play online video games as they can be played on smartphones and tablets and often are free or at a low cost. You can also pair phones with Bluetooth controllers to make it easier to play.

What are the benefits of mobile gaming?

With parental engagement and support to choose age-appropriate games, mobile gaming can offer both parents and children a great way to interact and develop a number of skills.

Health benefits of playing mobile games

  • Physical development

Playing games that help children test their strategic thinking and awareness of their wider environment can help boost memory, spatial awareness and problem-solving. In some cases playing games can also improve dexterity in younger children.

  • Promote exercise

There are a number of active gaming apps that test endurance and encourage children to run, jog or jump to gain points or navigate through a game. The most popular of these using augmented reality is Pokemon Go that encourages children to go outside to take part to enhance gameplay.

  • Bringing families together

Playing simple games like Ellen Degeneres ‘Heads up’ app or other similar apps that allow smartphones to become a tool to enhance group play can be a great way to take ‘Games night’ to another level.

  • Educational benefits

Games that test children knowledge of maths, science or other areas of interest can enhance learning and make it more fun for children to stay engaged in a particular subject.

  • Broadens imagination

Games can also allow children to explore creative worlds and use their imagination. This helps them to learn new ways to tell stories and learn about the world both emotionally and sympathetically as well as facts.

  • Supports children with special needs

Depending on the games they play, playing video games online can help children with special needs with communications skills, motor skills, organisation, and social interaction and reading and writing.

Resources document

Article from Common Sense Media: 5 ways video games can help kids with special needs

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What are the risks of mobile gaming?

Cyberbullying in gaming

The anonymity of the gaming world can make it easy for players to attack each other without the fear of consequences. Although many games have clear community guidelines that prohibit in-game abuse in any form (see Supercell example), some types of players known as griefers may intentionally target other players to harass them for no reason at all.

If your child is playing with games with people they don’t know it’s important to make them aware of how to report their concern in the platform or block players to have a safer experience. Visit anti-bullying charity Cybersmile’s website to learn to report in-game abuse on the most popular platforms.

How platforms can protect your child

For example, all Supercell games have a chat in which messages can be reported with a simple tap on the message that is being deemed inappropriate– once the message has been reported it is immediately given a risk level by a machine learning system and then reviewed by specially trained moderators

Resources document

Parent stories: Mum shares son’s experience of cyberbullying while gaming

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Stranger danger

With the growing trend of social gaming in mobile games, it’s important to make sure your child is aware that not everyone they interact with online is who they say they are. Help them understand that some people may have ulterior motives behind befriending them.

Advise them not to take anything at face value and never meet up with someone they’ve only met online. Having an ongoing conversation about who they are talking to online and on what platforms can help you know when to offer your support.

Reviewing their privacy settings on games they play to ensure features like voice chat are turned off for younger children can help. We’d also advise encouraging game-play to take place in family spaces and where possible together.

Resources document

See our online grooming to learn more about this issue and offer your child support.

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In-game purchases

Although many of the gaming apps may be free-to-play they may also have premium features that you have to pay for to access. In Supercell games, you can, for example, purchase in-app currency (usually called gems or diamonds) or offers containing for example chests, cards, skins or other special items.

It can be tempting for children to spend real money (top spend could be up to £79.99) on these digital items so it’s important to talk to them about what they can and can’t purchase in the games. Also, if needed deactivate the in-app function through settings on your child’s device or by setting up a password to download apps in the apps store. See our parental control how to guides to find out how.

Inappropriate content

Just like movies, all online games are rated with an age rating that allows you to choose age-appropriate games to avoid children being exposed to adult content that they are not ready for.

Due to the way certain platforms categorise games according to their content, at times the age rating for one game may not be the same across all platforms. So, it can be confusing when taking a call on whether a game is age-appropriate.

For example, Clash of Clans is rated 9+ on the App store but Supercell – the makers of the game – have set the minimum age of the game to 13 and over because it features a chat function and In-app purchasing.

Therefore, it is important to understand what the ratings mean and why these may have been categorised in this way.

Beyond this, it’s always best with young children to sit together and understand what content each game they play has to help manage the risks of exposure and answer any questions they may have on the game.

PEGI, which stands for Pan European Game Information, is the standard for rating video games in much of Europe

Gambling in gaming apps

Although it’s often reported that loot boxes in games lead to gambling, the Gambling Commission only state that this activity blurs the lines between these activities. There’s currently no causal link between the two.

Still, it’s important that parents understand how modern games are monetised so they can guide children to make informed and premeditated decisions about how much they want to spend. This enables them to get the best value from any in-app purchases that are signified in the PEGI rating of the game.

Some disreputable sites outside the control of the game created sometimes spring up to offer in-game items trading for real money. This activity, particularly where targeted at young players, is quickly closed down by the app moderators.

To help children on this issue it’s important to talk about it to make sure they are aware of the risks of gambling and monitor interactions online when it comes to what they buy when gaming. You can also switch off in-app purchases limit access to these features in-game play.

Amount of playtime and when

Although playing online games is fun, if not done with the right boundaries, it can interfere in young people offline responsibilities like school work and social engagements. Ensuring children are balancing time playing with their priorities is key to ensuring they are getting the best out of their gameplay. See tools to manage screen time for support.